In 2016, John Mayer and his wife lost their infant daughter. Overwhelmed by sadness, they joined a grief support group. It was there that Mayer learned of a soup kitchen for the homeless community in their neighborhood. A simple question—“Do you need help with that dinner?”—turned into a purposeful way of honoring his daughter.
“For a long time, I called it working off my grief energy,” says Mayer, who goes every Wednesday to help cook and serve. Soon, he found that he was not only helping others—he was helping himself. “It gives me a lot of satisfaction in helping another person, and I find connections that feel really great,” he explains.
In fact, Mayer explicitly considers volunteering part of his depression treatment plan. This is backed up by neuroscience: Kindness triggers an increase of endorphins, the body’s “feel good” chemical, and activates the part of the brain associated with receiving rewards and enjoyment. The resulting rush of positive feelings is what Allan Luks, author of the Healing Power of Doing Good, calls a “helper’s high.” His groundbreaking 1988 survey of volunteers showed that 95 percent reported experiencing a helper’s high. In the decades since, researchers have repeatedly corroborated the benefits of doing good.
Even if you don’t have time for a regular volunteer gig, engaging in small acts of kindness can boost your wellbeing.
It can make you happier. In an experiment at the University of California Riverside, students who practiced five small kind acts per week—like donating blood, writing a thank-you letter, or helping a friend with homework—reported an increase in happiness, whereas students in a control group, who did nothing, actually reported a slight decrease.
It can make you healthier. Being kind produces a hormone called oxytocin, which helps keep our hearts healthy by relaxing the cells along the walls of our arteries, allowing more blood to flow through and be delivered to the heart and other organs, thereby reducing blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
It might even lead to a longer life. One global study found that people who volunteer have better overall health outcomes than those who don’t, which lead to a 22 percent lower mortality rate when the researchers followed up with both groups years later.
Doing good is good for everyone involved. What better time to get started than Random Acts of Kindness Week? Make it your goal to do something nice each day—and enjoy the benefits that follow. Need some inspiration? Check out the list below.
25 Random Act of Kindness:
1.Give a genuine compliment
2. Choose forgiveness
3. Grab lunch with a new coworker
4. Give up your seat on public transportation
5. Treat a friend to coffee
6. Lend an ear to someone who needs it
7. Pay for a stranger’s parking
8. Visit an elderly relative
9. Donate to a non-profit
10. Send a thank-you note
11. Hold the door for someone
12. Leave a quarter in a laundromat
13. Send a care package
14. Ask a friend about their day
15. Share an umbrella
16. Offer words of encouragement to someone who needs them
17. Support a local business
18. Send a friend or relative a “thinking of you” card
19. Leave a generous tip
20. Call a loved one to check in
21. Let a stranger cut you in line or on the road
22. Host or organize a gathering for your community
23. Offer to take a task off of a coworker’s plate
24. Share a funny or uplifting video
25. Cook a meal for a friend
Hannah Wallace is a Portland-based journalist and editor who writes about integrative medicine, sustainable agriculture, and wine for Food & Wine, Vogue, Fast Company, and other publications. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @Hannahmw23.